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15 November 2016

Here’s what Theresa May is missing about Donald Trump

It's not just the third wheel that's different this time.

By Stephen Bush

Downing Street has rebuked Nigel Farage’s suggestion that he can act as an envoy between Theresa May and Donald Trump, talking up the Prime Minister’s first phone call with the President-Elect, and with it, the promise to recreate the era of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, when Downing Street and the White House enjoyed probably the closest political relationship there has been between the two governments since the war.

One line in particular from the briefing has caught the eye of most newspapers, that May’s spokesperson doesn’t “recall a third person in that relationship”.
And this is certainly true. There was no Farage-type figure scuttling between Reagan and Thatcher.

But a suggestion – and not just for Downing Street but for the bulk of the British right as it navigates Donald Trump’s victory – if I may? There are a couple of other important things to recall about the Thatcher-Reagan relationship.

The first was a shared domestic agenda and an analysis about what both countries needed to do. Theresa May believes – as she and her aides have been saying privately and she said publicly in her first major speech on foreign policy – that Britain needs to save free trade. Donald Trump wants to dismantle it. One of Theresa May’s proudest achievements – and rightly so – as Home Secretary was reducing the powers of stop-and-search. Donald Trump wants to increase the powers and scope of American policing.

But you can cope with division over domestic priorities if you have unanimity on foreign ones – look at Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. But it’s here that the British right needs to wake up and smell the Kremlin.

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As far as global freedom and security were concerned, Thatcher and Reagan agreed that the Soviet Union was the biggest short-term threat to global freedom and security in the world. In terms of long-term threats, the Reagan administration was instrumental in attempting to prevent damage to the ozone layer, while Thatcher was the first national leader to talk about the dangers of climate change while in office.

In terms of the two threats to global peace and freedom today, Trump believes that Vladimir Putin is part of the solution, and doesn’t believe climate change exists. If Theresa May – and others hailing the restoration of the “special relationship” and the Thatcher-Reagan era – believes those things are true, let her say so. If she doesn’t, it’s time to recognise that all of this talk about how the United Kingdom can “fix” Trump for what it is: whistling past the graveyard.